On 11 March, EP members Suzanne Reynolds and Susana de Dios to a trip with Julian Hughes to a Nottingham Blood Centre to document Julian’s blood donation. Susana de Dios took the photos in this gallery, and the group then wrote responses to the images based on parallels found in John Berger’s 1967 novel A Fortunate Man. You can find a blog post about this experience written by Suzanne Reynolds here.
Thursday 11 May | Author: Suzanne Reynolds | Featured Image: Susana de Dios
Blood. We all have it; I guess it is one of those commonalities that we take for granted – well, at least until we need a blood transfusion. There we are, in an emergency situation, haemorrhaging following childbirth, as I did, or through loss of blood caused by a road collision; whatever the reason is for your need, you can be sure that someone here, in a Blood Centre such as this on North Church Street right in the centre of Nottingham, will have enabled that to happen – simply by voluntarily donating one pint of their blood.
It is to witness one of these selfless acts, by regular blood donor Julian Hughes – along with photographer Susana de Dios – that we are here, as part of our research towards an exciting theatre project with New Perspectives based on John Berger’s A Fortunate Man – The Story of a Country Doctor, first published in 1967. This research, with a host of co-collaborators from a range of artistic disciplines, will lead to a new piece of theatre that will first be shared at Lakeside in June as part of the NRTF conference. One of the key aims of this timely research is to consider the state of the National Health Service fifty years on.An image from Julian’s Friends, Lovers and Strangers project
You can sense my hesitation…it’s true, both Susana and I don’t like needles, so volunteering to observe Julian donating blood at least averts both our minds from what we are about to witness; except that, just as we are ushered towards a private meeting room, we are asked, quite rightly to leave, as this part is confidential. Julian laughs later as he tells us there are many reasons why people cannot give blood on that particular day – some of which you will know, I’m sure. He also tells us that he gets nervous, even now – even though he has been donating blood for over ten years; his first donation being given on February 14th. He invited, as part of a photography project, people that he knew for a pint, only for them to discover that they were going to give a pint, rather than drink one; many of these are still regular blood donors.
They, like Julian, having concluded their confidential meeting, will be ushered into a bright and relatively noisy space where each donor can see each other – it is not as I expected at all – not a curtain in sight! He is invited to sit in a chair that is capable of being tipped right back; almost like a bucket seat that was in our red Ford Escort, back in the day when hubby and I were dating (I’ve learnt, people don’t call it ‘courting’ any more – it seems people seem to assume that you are some kind of offender!). Anyway, whilst this Blood Donor Centre is busy, I am not convinced that making yourself as vulnerable as this is a precursor to the development of romantic relationships – although Julian assures us that people do talk over their tea, coffee and nibbles that they have afterwards, but he reckons he is about twenty minutes away from that currently.
Meanwhile, the needle, as it goes in, is described as somewhat “irritating” and “scratchy” – although I observe that his feet are no longer twitching quite so much with what I can only suppose to be indicative of a level of anxiety; think Jeremy Kyle on one of the many TV screens has helped to help take his mind off it. He laughs as he tells us, he once saw a snake being attacked by a mongoose as he gave blood, which had made him laugh and took his mind off the needled – he went on to state that the particular shade of blue that is in the room is comforting to him, as it reminds him of “engineering blue” (his dad worked as an engineer).
The nurse also helps to keep him chatting, as Susana moves effortlessly around the space, creating a photographic record of the event, as the nurse continues to chat, she then asks him about the project – at this, he visibly relaxes. She is very encouraging about the project, and is herself aware of the book; she goes on to say things like:
“You could do with staying a day here…see how it all works!”
“Every day is a different day; we get all walks of people here.”
With Julian’s blood flowing, she sets an alarm which beeps, slowly at first, but quite soon becomes faster and faster, until there is an audible increase in strength and volume, at which point, the nurse returns and informs him that he is all done:
“Seven minutes, that’s quick!”, she states.
Julian is astonished, as he tells us he usually finds the room quite cool, but today, as it is warmer, it seems to have “helped my blood flow quicker”.
The needle is removed, swiftly and with precision, and soon we are all sat around in a comfy area surrounded by an array of sweet and salty snacks, and where cups of tea and coffee are drunk in a relaxed atmosphere where there must be a real sense of relief, and what I imagine to be a recognition of ‘doing good’. (Maybe I should check whether I am able to give blood myself now, having been told that because I had a blood transfusion prior to blood being tested for Variant CJD, that I would not be able to; as medicated as I am due to chronic pain and fibromyalgia, I think this sense of giving something back could only be a good thing. Those who know me will already know that I can indeed be a bit of a mad cow!)
We depart the Blood Centre once Julian feels up to it, and decamp to a local coffee shop where we continue to talk about Berger and Mohr’s legacy – their collaboration, and how we might be able to bring A Fortunate Man to the stage in a way that does this text, required reading for every would-be GP, justice; especially as we approach a General Election where the NHS could well be a key factor in how people might choose to use their vote.
After this session the EP members paired images with quotes from John Berger’s novel. Visit the full gallery here.
Saturday 22 April | Author: Suzanne Reynolds | Featured image: Mira Ho
And, so it began…
I can’t believe I’m here; here amongst these amazing, talented people – as part of this team. We are here, at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, getting to know more about the A Fortunate Man project from Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives, Michael Pinchbeck, Theatre Maker, and Julian Hughes, Photographer – who each tell us about how long they had been planning to produce a piece of theatre based on A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor – with words by John Berger, and photographs by Jean Mohr – and how they saw it being created.
Having read the book a number of times in preparation, recognising with each reading the sheer beauty and wonder of this text and its quietly balanced photography – each image adding layer upon layer of depth to Berger’s beautiful language, I was excited to begin.
Photo by Susana de Dios and Ed Roberts
Never having worked in collaboration before, I was excited at the prospect of a new
adventure; they teamed each writer with a photographer and, before we knew it, we were off outside, exploring Lakeside, acting as ethnographers, detailers of lives, of images we saw, created through a lens – all the time, interacting with the space that was all around us. Whilst my co-collaborator utilised her skills as a photographer, producing wonderful images where the book became located in this landscape, I took to seating myself in the sunshine on a bench by the lake, and wrote soundscapes, attempting to capture the words, the sounds, the lives going on around me.
When we went back into the Learning Room, each group talked about how they had worked together, and showed what they had produced in response to this busy place, full of families at play, eating ice-creams, or to the architecture or natural elements of this place. It was so exciting to see and hear about what each group had done, and hearing and seeing these responses has just served to inspire me even more: I want to be able to be part of a team that does this book justice, and having started our detective journey, I have no doubt that what we will come up with, under Michael and Julian’s direction, will enable and empower us to offer a piece that is both creative as well as innovative – even to the way that it may be staged.
As a writer (I am actually calling myself that, for the first time), I feel incredibly blessed and lucky to have this opportunity and to be a part of such a wonderful, inspiring and supportive team. And, whilst this might be my first ever blog, I do sincerely hope that you will come along this journey with us – maybe by reading the book, or becoming an ethnographer, a detective yourself, you never know where your own creative spark may come from! Mine was in response to a call out for
Emerging Artists – maybe next time, it could be you…
Read more on the project in Michael Pinchbeck’s latest blog.
Writer Susie Hennessy muses on week 2 of our HAUNTS project. In this session the writers retraced audio walks which had been made from a route created in the very first session.
Saturday 25th March, 2017 | Author: Susie Hennessy
Fresh from our first week’s creative endeavours (and with many tales of ingenious solutions to sound engineering incompetence to share), the Haunts team arrived at New Perspectives base camp this morning, armed with a newly-forged collection of Nottingham-based audio walks, and keen to discover the extent to which these fruits of our labours would function interactively. Since exploring the Nottingham cityscape last Saturday (quite in spite of the inclement weather), my fellow writers and I have been busy designing and recording these pieces, with the intention of documenting our perceptions of three separate routes through the bustling town centre, whilst simultaneously guiding our listeners in such a way that they might retrace our footsteps. The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating, and so it was necessary for us to return to the scene of last week’s crime (?) this afternoon, so that we could all ‘plug in’ to each other’s works, in turn, and test our narrative and navigational skills, as well as our nerves.
There is something both exhilarating and terrifying about sharing a fledgling written work with others, and so, after a short tram ride (magnificent interlude for this humble Lincolnite) from NP to Nottingham Contemporary (the starting point for each of our walks), we assembled, loaded up the relevant tracks on our respective electronic devices, and donned earphones, all with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I noticed, before we even set out on the first walk, that I felt a real sense of responsibility, not only as a writer who would, essentially, instruct my ‘audience’ through an incredibly busy city (today’s weather bringing with it a far greater flurry of animation and merriment than we saw last week), but also as a listener, keen to follow the correct path, and to avoid making a wrong turn. Added to this, I was somewhat apprehensive about the attention that a lost soul, wandering about in headphoned isolation, disconnected from the outside world, might attract in an urban environment, where folk going about their business, understandably, take none-too- kindly to the distracted and the disorientated stumbling blindly into their paths. As we embarked on the first walk, however, my fears were quickly quelled, and I actually found a real sense of unity (as well as of, paradoxically, solitude) in the knowledge that others were taking this quite remarkable journey with me. As we progressed through this afternoon’s sequence of experiences, as a group, we were all keenly aware that we had been permitted the luxury of viewing the landscape through the eyes of others, and found it fascinating to consider the ways in which this particular medium can guide collective vision, regardless of the fact that it is, in many ways, subject to the vagaries of a completely spontaneous environment (which we found often adds something quite wonderful, and unexpected, to the pre-recorded, set text).
Whilst I know that comparison of self to others is a deadly trap to be avoided at all costs, I must admit that I found myself to be in awe of the rich characterisation that defined the first two pieces we listened to this afternoon (I drew the short straw and found myself last on the playlist!), and of the very precise and evocative stories that both communicated to their audiences. As we set the wheels of my walk in motion, I realised that my narrative could have been less ‘tour guide-esque’, and more playful in places, although I was heartened, later on, to hear that the philosophical reflections I included in the script had served to shape its character. On a practical note, I think we all found, as the works went from page to stage, that there were moments where our ‘instructions’ to the listener might have been a little clearer, and so we all reaped some very tangible benefits from our maiden voyage together. There can be no doubt that we all approached this task completely differently, and that we each have our own unique concerns and insights that we will be able to draw upon, not only in our individual creative work, but also in our collaboration with one another, which, I might add, felt organic and fruitful at the end of today’s session, as we discussed each of our pieces in turn. As an aspiring writer and actor who has recently emerged from a detour of several years in academia, I am trying to shake off my objective, ‘teacherly’ voice (the voice that I recognised only too clearly in my audio walk today), and find a literary voice that is more authentically mine; as this project finds me, happily, surrounded by writers who are skilled in the arts of writing poetry, drama, and fiction, it is already becoming clear that Haunts has presented me with an invaluable opportunity to develop my own writing style, whilst learning from, and with, likeminded others.
As New Perspective’s latest adaptation of a Children’s classic The Giant Jam Sandwich plays to children and their families on tour the company’s Artistic Director, Jack McNamara, says that the key to successful children’s theatre is making the content as rich as that for adult audiences.
The world of children’s picture books can be a place where imaginations go into overdrive, not only for readers but also for theatre programmers.
At their best, children’s books tell brilliantly concise stories in original and often provocative ways. Whatever your age, it’s hard to resist being inspired by the tongue-twisting brilliance of Dr Seuss, the dry minimalism of Jon Klassen, or the outlandish humour of Babette Cole. These artists, among many others in this area, push their form as far as they can and bring readers, old and young, with them.
But work for children has often been connected to an avant-garde sensibility. The composer Carl Stalling’s music for the early Warner Brothers cartoons is considered some of the most progressive modern composition of its time; full of stop-start rhythms and bouncing between genres.
Inspired by all these great innovators, when New Perspectives produce work for children we make it as a rich an offer as anything we would make for adults. That means investing as much into our design, casting and dramaturgy as we would for our ‘grown-up’ productions.
Like the best of children’s writing, we also make sure our work doesn’t shy away from potentially tricky themes. A recent production of ours made for audiences aged seven plus – a collection of rare Ted Hughes plays titled The Tiger’s Bones and Other Stories – comprised of three short works that explored subjects such as religion, worker’s rights, colonialism and the death-wish of technology. And kids loved it!
The Giant Jam Sandwich is our latest children’s show, an adaptation of John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway’s outrageously good 1972 picture book.
The story presents a conflict between a community of villagers and a swarm of wasps and, as the title suggests, a solution for trapping them. Yet even in such a joyous and exuberant book, there are complex themes worth mining.
There is the latent theme of foreign invasion in the original story that, without turning it into a political allegory, we choose to explore in our production. Our main way of doing so is by giving the wasps in our version a voice, so that audiences hear their side of events too.
After all, conflict is rarely a straightforward subject and perhaps the less we are taught to see the world in black and white terms the better. This is why, at New Perspectives, the focus of our creative energy is on the constant search for something unexpected that triggers the imagination to offer a glimpse of a show waiting to happen.
The Giant Jam Sandwich is currently touring – please see tour dates here
photo: L-R Jack McNamara (Artistic Director, New Perspectives), John Vernon Lord (illustrator and author)
Theatre maker Michael Pinchbeck talks about his involvement with the 2017 Emerging Perspectives’ artist development project inspired by John Berger’s masterpiece A Fortunate Man
1. John Berger’s 1967 book, A Fortunate Man is often described as a masterpiece of social observation. How did this project come about?
New Perspectives’ Artistic Director, Jack McNamara thought there might be a creative response we could make to the book to mark its 50th anniversary in 2017. I read the book twice cover to cover and thought it was a really beautiful piece of writing with evocative photos that give a vivid sense of time, place and one man’s life. It speaks of the way a doctor works, but back when the relationship between a doctor and their patients was very different to today. There’s a kind of romanticism about it, between the doctor and his work, the author and his subject. Since John Berger died in January, I think that romanticism has grown slightly and it feels timely and important to revisit the book and see how we can interpret it. At the same time, there is a lot of topical debate about the state of the NHS so we want to mark the 50th anniversary of the book and look at how things have changed since it was written.
2. John Berger’s work has influenced an illustrious line of theatre-makers. When did you first become aware of his work?
I know he worked closely with Complicite and also wrote his own plays. I actually read his book Ways of Seeing when I was doing an MA at NTU. I then cited his work quite a lot for my recent PhD at Loughborough University. He says something that is really important to artists working on a project: ‘to understand a landscape we have to situate ourselves in it’. I think about this when I make a show. You have to try and understand the world you are writing about, through research, through visiting places, through talking to people, and that is what we will do for this project.
3. This project sees you pair up with your frequent collaborator, photographer Julian Hughes. What do you hope to explore together through this project?
Because the book was a collaboration between John Berger and a photographer, Jean Mohr, I wanted the core of this project to be a collaboration with a photographer too. I have worked with Julian for over 10 years now on performance projects and he brings a brilliant visual awareness to the work and documents it beautifully. I am hoping he is going to be able to work with the selected visual artists and share with them how best to capture life in doctors’ surgeries, sensitively and discreetly, while also revealing a little more about the beauty of the everyday. I will work with the writers and theatre makers and then we will bring our work together.
4. The project is part of New Perspectives’ engagement programme, placing you as an established artist with emerging artists from the East Midlands region. What skills are you looking for in these creatives?
An ability to think creatively and find interesting solutions to challenging situations. I enjoy working with people who think on their feet, where the doing is the thinking. I don’t like talking too much about the work, I just like getting on and doing it. I hope we can find a group of artists who are all on the same wavelength and who can bring their complementary skills to the process. It is going to be a bit like a jigsaw.
5. These emerging artists will be working with you over a four-month period. What can they expect from the project?
They can expect to become a cross between artists and detectives, as we go out on a kind of field trip to visit different surgeries in different communities, like the one John Berger writes about in the book. His doctor, John Sassall, would visit people’s houses and know different generations of the same family and we want to see what doctors now are like. In the book, John Sassall says that he sometimes wonders how much he is the last of the old traditional country doctors and how much he is a doctor of the future. He asks if you can be both and I suppose we are exploring what this idea of a doctor of the future might look like. I want us all to bring a different lens to the process, as writer, photographer or artist. And I want us to be able to tell the story of John Berger’s book and the doctor that inspired it. Tragically, the doctor in the book took his own life, and I think this might be our starting point.
6. Lastly, what advice would you give to creatives who are thinking of applying to this project?
Make the work you want to make. Be the artist you want to be. Be yourself.
The A Fortunate Man project will run from April – July 2017. Keep a look our for project updates on www.newperspectives.co.uk
I am often asked by children, parents and teachers what made me think up the ideas for my books. Many of the ideas for my picture books seem to have come out of small experiences in my life that I have wanted to reflect upon and then the wish to turn part of these memory glimpses into fantasy stories for children. My father has a loose connection with some of the stories I’ve done: with his advice as to how to get rid of wasps at picnics (for The Giant Jam Sandwich); the fact that I was too scared to tell him that I had lost one of my new roller-skates when I was a boy at school (for Mr Ellwood’s chase in The Runaway Roller-skate); and his annoyance at his next door neighbour for chucking snails over the garden wall (for the exploits of Mr Mead and his Garden).
I am describing here the background and evolution of events that led to the publication of The Giant Jam Sandwich, as this will probably be the most familiar of my children’s books. The story tells how a village called Itching Down is invaded by wasps one hot summer and of the residents’ efforts to rid themselves of their unwelcome guests by baking a huge loaf and spreading a slice of it with jam. As the wasps begin to gorge themselves on the strawberry jam, a second slice of bread is dropped on top of them from a great height (with the aid of helicopters and a flying tractor) and squashes flat most of the wasps, trapping them inside the sandwich. While all the villagers rejoice in a celebration, the wasp-filled sandwich is finally taken out to sea by hundreds of crows for the rest of the birds to feast upon.
The idea for this story was prompted by an event, which took place during an August holiday in Devon. My family was staying at a fairly remote farmhouse in Milton Damerel with a couple of friends who had two young boys, Alexander and Jonathan, aged five and three years. These young lads were terrified by wasps and, whenever there was a buzzing sound about the dining table or picnic cloth, they would squeal with alarm until the offending insects were removed from the scene.
One afternoon, during a walk across the fields, Alexander started to scream and shout because a wasp insisted on hovering continually about him. In order to quell his anxiety and divert his attention I settled the two boys and our three girls on the grass and, on the spur of the moment, proceeded to invent the bare bones of the story of what came to be The Giant Jam Sandwich.
The germ of the idea must have sprung from my own childhood memory of my father’s habit of placing a slice of jam-covered crust some distance away from where we were picnicking in order to encourage aggravating wasps away from our food. My father was a baker, who had a bakery and cafe in Glossop in Derbyshire and you can see his old shop at the end of the book when the villagers are dancing. In the book my father can be seen in his familiar white coat, puffing upon his pipe and standing at the door of ‘Bert’s Cafe’. I spent many hours working in his bake house on Saturdays and during the vacation period when I was an art student and I can remember hurling lumps of discarded dough at any wasp that dared to venture in and hover about the white tiled walls.
Over the years I have often received letters from children. On the first page of the book we can see the wasps swarming towards the village; ‘four million’ of them it states in the text. I once had a letter from a classroom of school children asking me why I had not drawn all the four million wasps as stated in the text. I wrote back saying that it took me on average about 45 seconds to draw a single wasp and I suggested that they should work out how long it would have taken me to draw all four million wasps. The answer is 180 million seconds, or 3 million minutes, or 50 thousand hours, or 2,083 days, making it nearly five years and nine months (if you were working on it 24 hours a day!).
John Vernon Lord originally presented this article as a case study at Bookquest in 1984; it was re-produced in ‘An author’s view: John Vernon Lord talking about picture books’ published in Reflections on Early Reading by Collins in 1990 and updated for a paper presented in Barcelona in 1999.
The Giant Jam Sandwich opens as a half term treat in association with Derby LIVE at Derby’s Guildhall Theatre on Saturday 11 February with performances daily at 11am and 2.30pm through to Saturday 18 February – you can book tickets here.
The production moves to Polka Theatre, Wimbledon, followed by tour dates around the country through to Saturday 25 March – you can see a full list of performance dates with booking links by clicking here.
John Vernon Lord is an author, illustrator and teacher. His children’s books have been published widely and translated into several languages. His picture book The Giant Jam Sandwich has become a classic, having been in print for over forty-four years. His career in education includes being head of various departments and schools during his many years teaching at Brighton. He was Professor of Illustration at the University of Brighton 1986-99, where he is now Professor Emeritus. He was the chair of the Graphic Design Board of the Council for National Academic Awards 1981-84. He is allergic to wasps!